Percussionist Flin van Hemmen has been a catalyst for many things happening in New York since he arrived in 2007. He has released two records under his own name, Drums of Days in 2016, and just in September he followed with Casting Spells & the Coves, both on Neither/Nor Records. He has also been a central figure in the free improvised quartet While We Still Have Bodies, and has played as a sideperson in many bands including those led by Frantz Loriot, Patrick Breiner, Natalio Sued, Harmen Fraanje, and others. I had the opportunity to interview Hemmen about his latest record.
Cisco Bradley: This is your second record as a leader and also your second solo record. Your first record, Drums of Days, was groundbreaking. This seems an even more ambitious project. Can you talk about how you got from the first record to the second? Was it a process of evolution or two very different projects?
Flin van Hemmen: Both! The initial compositions / recorded material were part of an evolution. The shaping of what was to become Casting Spells a different thing. Overarching though is the gaining of confidence which we so desperately need in order to make something personal, something that honors our singularity, and uniqueness. This only happens by doing, experience, output. and speaking of evolution–it’s almost like the daring to plunge into your entire well of experience, not just that ‘refined’ point of taste you just acquired, which to some extent Drums of Days was to me. Casting Spells is much more a full embrace of everything I love about music, regardless of style, molded into something I believe no one can too easily define. For anything ‘new’ should by definition fall short of definitions and terms. I find this striking when I go see the Impressionists at the Met–sure I get the umbrella, but man are they completely and utterly and relentlessly personal!
CB: What new ideas did you explore with Casting Spells & the Coves?
FvH: Zoning in on elements that would transfix me–one phrase from an improvisation–what happens when you repeat it over and over? The decay of a chord in which the overtones of piano, guitar, and bass seem to collide in the strangest of ways, what happens when you put that under a microscope, what IS that? And since I love it so, maybe we can extend it somehow, build something out of just that element, sound sculpt, using the recording material freely, as building blocks for shapes previously unseen.
I kept asking the question, is this okay, do I have permission? of course it’s fucking okay! you are making art, aren’t you? that’s what I mean by needing experience–the audacity to follow that vision which lay dormant before, hidden in thy crevices. Irreverence / reverence. Reverence strictly for that which excited me most and deemed further investigation. Reverence for music, not for an agenda or some pre-conception of what this was to become.
CB: Can you tell me about the role field recordings play in your music?
FvH: Field recordings in and of themselves fascinate me. There is so much to find in seemingly ordinary moments, there is so much music there. which also informs us about what music may or may not be . . . it’s not dissimilar to nature, where things just are . . . with nothing to prove . . . very dissimilar to humans.
As far as its role on the album, these field recordings are a sonic representation of my daily life and create a sense of mystery to the ‘composed’ material, as it’s contrast is stark and low-fi to boot. always beware of a kitch-y effect, lurking, or embrace it. I’m still working it out and hopefully I never will. I believe it adds to it’s singularity, which I like. I love the background stories of these recordings too, and how they found their way into the album. Friends, family and situations, very encompassing and fulfilling.
CB: Can you point to any sources of light that led you to Casting Spells & the Coves?
FvH: My acquaintance of musique concrete and most notably Pierre Henry’s sound sculptures, paid dividend. That whole scene just seems to burst with ideas and may I use the word freedom? Very emboldening indeed. These precious compositions can certainly be used as raw materials. It is also in my mind a return to my relationship to popular music, a big part of my musical blue print. Thomas Dolby, Thom Yorke, James Blake, J Dilla, Chris Weisman, The Blue Nile. All voracious experimenters, sound sculptors. And just all about sound too, digging for truth in that way, producing, somewhat self obsessive, but hopefully for a good cause, like authors and painters maybe.
CB: This is your third release on Neither/Nor Records, which by today’s standards constitutes a long relationship with a single label. What has your experience been with the label? What has made you stick with them?
FvH: Carlo Costa is a good friend, all about the music, straight up and puts his heart into the final stages of the process, so I’m thankful for this long standing relationship. It has been a true collaboration, down to the art work and presentation.
CB: When did you move to NYC?
FvH: Dec 2007, a few months after finishing my studies at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. The Netherlands has a longstanding improvised music scene at places like the Bimhuis. What led you to move to New York and invest so deeply in the music scene here? The longer it’s been since I made that decision the harder I find to answer it. I definitely felt a kinship with musicians here and made some friends early on who brought something different, something I couldn’t quite put my fingers on, to my attention. I wanted to become privy to what they were going for and I was young enough to abandon my former life, though in retrospect I still find it puzzling. When you move to a new setting all preconceptions of who you are musically and to some degree personally sit on loose sand, which subliminally I must have been after. Along the way I’ve had my share of doubts, admittedly, and in this light the completion and release Casting Spells has meant a lot to me
It seems to let me know that every now and then things come full circle, for all its twists and turns. I love it when art points to many different places and phases while at the same time sounding easeful, or better, natural. Simplicity takes the greatest effort. I’ve veered from the original question but that’s what I may be after.
CB: Thank you!
Photo Credit: Joe Branciforte